Pick One Thing

Lately when riding, I am a hot mess. (That’s the technical term.  The actual term used by my instructor is unprintable here.) There are so many things going on — my seat isn’t balanced, my legs slide forward, my knees are jammed up against the knee roll, my reins get floppy — hence, the hot mess. (In fairness to my past riding self, it’s not all bad all the time — but compared to how I used to be, it certainly feels that way.)

This week, my instructor brought me back to basics.  She took a long whip, threaded it between my elbows and behind my back, and told me to keep it there while cantering.  Lean forward and hunch your shoulders toward your ears (my favorite riding position, apparently) and the whip pops out. Humiliation galore. (And an exciting ride if it happens to hit your horse on the way down.)

It’s an old trick, but it worked.  To keep the whip in place, I had to roll my shoulders down and lean back. Which centered my seat. Which fixed my leg. Which got my hands out of my lap and improved the way I held the reins.

One small change, and everything fell into place.

Writing is like that too.  Looking at an entire manuscript is overwhelming and can make you feel like a failure.  But if you pick just one thing to work on — your dialogue, for example, or the way you transition between scenes — one of two things will happen:

Either you’ll fix the main problem, and everything else will snap into place, or…

You’ll find out you have more work to do.  Which isn’t the end of the world, I promise.  It just means picking the next one thing. Fixing that. And moving on.



(And if you’ve read this far, here’s a reward — one of my favorite riding videos is at the end of this page.)

Liz Michalski


  1. Vaughn Roycroft on February 25, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my own hot mess. Thanks for whipping me into shape. 🙂

    • liz on February 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Anytime, Vaughn. : ) Glad the post resonated with you!

  2. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on February 25, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Another great writing metaphor. I’ve been surprised, lately, how I might be feeling total despair about a blog post or chapter of my fiction, and then, after a break from it or journalling or a walk, find the long whip. It’s an exhilarating experience and great at building hope!

    • liz on February 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks so much, Jan. I’ve learned a lot (often the hard way!) from riding, so it’s nice to be able to share it with others. And I hope you stay warm on those walks!

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